More state governments have installed temporary measures that allow wills to be signed electronically, a move aimed at easing some of the burdens and health restrictions caused by the coronavirus crisis.
As reported by multiple news organisations, the governments’ move permits citizens in multiple states to take advantage of not only electronic signatures when finalising wills, but also video conferencing. Since witnesses are required for a will to be considered legal and legitimate, Zoom, FaceTime, GoToMeeting and other video conferencing outlets can now be leveraged for remote witnessing.
New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Australian Capital Territory enacted these temporary measures in recent weeks. The allowances also apply to other official documents requiring one or more witnesses, such as deeds, powers of attorney, affidavits, statutory declarations and enduring guardianship, Mondaq reported.
Rules expire at different times
Government officials emphasise that this new stipulation is temporary, but since they were introduced in states at different times, they are as a result set to expire on different dates as well, according to Mondaq. For example, in NSW, remote witnessing will no longer be valid as of 22 October 2020. Meanwhile, in Victoria, the expiration date is two days later, 24 October, and in Queensland, the measures will be null and void 31 December.
The rules are slightly different in the ACT. There, both electronic signatures and remote witnessing will be allowed for as long as the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act is enforced. Once it is lifted, the measures will remain in place for no longer than 12 months.
Measures met with criticism
These rulings haven’t been without resistance from legal experts, both in Australia and the United Kingdom, where the temporary provisions are also in place.
Lawyer Charles Hutton told This Is Money this action will make it easier for people to abuse the system and raise suspicions as to whether wills were signed under false pretence.
“How are the witnesses to know that, just out of camera shot, there is not someone putting pressure on the testator to sign?” Hutton told the newspaper. “Admittedly, the current system is not perfect, but we may see a spike of undue influence cases following the deaths of those who have signed their wills in this way. The advice has to be to use the traditional method wherever possible.”
If you have reason to believe a will is invalid, we may be able to help you contest it in court. Please contact Gerard Malouf and Partners today for a consultation.